Mercedes’ Hamilton fails to finish
SPIELBERG, Austria, July 1, (AFP): Max Verstappen made the most of a rare Mercedes double retirement on Sunday by claiming his first win this year, and Red Bull’s first at “home”, in an incident-packed Austrian Grand Prix.
The Dutch tyro grabbed victory after both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas pulled up with power and gearbox failures respectively as their team’s run of four straight Austrian wins came to an abrupt end at the Red Bull Ring where the track temperature was 48 celsius degrees (118 Fahrenheit).
“It’s amazing to win in a Red Bull at the Red Bull Ring,” said Verstappen, who was supported by an “Orange army” of more than 20,000 fans.
“Very hard to manage the tyres, lot of blistering, but we manged to hang on,” he said. “It was amazing to win here with so many Dutch fans.”
The double-retirement was a first for McLaren since the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, which Verstappen won on his Red Bull debut after Hamilton collided with team-mate Nico Rosberg on the opening lap.
Hamilton was unhappy before his late retirement complaining to his team that “we’ve just thrown away a win,” by bungling the timing of a tyre change.
It was also Verstappen’s fourth career victory as he came home 1.504 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and his Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who regained the lead in the drivers championship ahead of Hamilton by a single point.
Romain Grosjean was fourth ahead of his Ferrari-powered Haas team-mate Kevin Magnussen, Esteban Ocon and his Force India team-mate Sergio Perez.
Two-time champion Fernando Alonso came home eighth for McLaren ahead of Monegasque rising star Charles Leclerc and his Ferrari-powered Sauber team-mate Marcus Ericsson.
Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Australian Daniel Ricciardo was also forced to retire on his 29th birthday.
Vettel leads the title race with 146 points ahead of Hamilton on 145, Raikkonen on 101 and Ricciardo on 96.
“I told Max he had a very good race,” said Vettel. “Very consistent. No mistakes. It was damage limitation for me and a positive day.”
Raikkonen said: “I had to back off at turn one because the cars were squeezed together. After that, the car came good, but we just ran out of laps.”
At the start, Raikkonen made a rapid departure from third to dive between the two Mercedes as Bottas struggled uphill and Hamilton took the initiative.
Raikkonen grabbed second, but then ran off at Turn Two giving fellow-Finn Bottas a chance to recover second on the straight in a frantic opening lap.
Hamilton then opened up a 2.4 seconds lead as the field was stretched on the tight, short track.
On lap 12, Nico Hulkenberg retired, his Renault engine spurting flames.
Three laps later, the luckless Bottas was also forced to abandon, pulling off to park his Mercedes.
“My gearbox is gone,” he told the team.
This left Hamilton 7.7 seconds ahead of Verstappen when a Virtual Safety Car was deployed to allow for Bottas’ car to be removed.
Immediately, both Ferrari and Red Bull responded with double pit-stops for their drivers while Mercedes left Hamilton out – a tactical oversight that was to prove costly.
“I’ve got no time left in the tyres,” said Hamilton, aware that a straightforward race win was in peril.
“It’s my mistake. Do what you can,” replied Mercedes strategist James Vowles.
Hamilton then, somewhat unexpectedly, pitted after 25 laps and emerged fourth, ahead of his direct title rival Vettel, but the defending champion was unhappy.
At the front, Verstappen led his Red Bull team-mate Ricciardo by 4.9 seconds with Raikkonen third, a second down, and Hamilton a further six-tenths adrift.
“I don’t get it guys. I’m not going to be able to pass these guys. We’ve just thrown away a win,” said Hamilton.
It was clear that tyre wear was emerging as a critical factor. Verstappen had slight blistering, but Hamilton’s left rear was a mass of blistered rubber.
On lap 53, he pitted again for super-softs, dropping a place to fifth behind Ricciardo, who almost immediately slowed and stopped.
Hamilton reeled off two fastest laps, but it was asking too much as Mercedes’ unbeaten four-year run in Austria, and his own race, came to an end when he pulled up on lap 64 after losing power.